Henry D. Forrest, a court-appointed attorney for a gay man who’s appealing a first-degree murder conviction, has requested permission to withdraw from the case.
In 2008, William F. Smithson was convicted of strangling to death his coworker, Jason Shephard, while trying to rape him.
But Smithson maintains his innocence. He claims his trial attorney, G. Guy Smith, didn’t adequately investigate F. Bruce Covington — who also was inside Smithson’s home when Shephard died.
Delaware County prosecutors charged Covington with drug-related offenses stemming from the incident, but say Smithson is Shephard’s killer.
Smithson’s appeal for a new trial is pending before state Superior Court.
On Aug. 26, Forrest filed a 20-page document asking to withdraw from the case, on the basis that Smithson’s appeal is allegedly meritless.
For his part, Smith says he did a thorough job of investigating Covington.
“I chased Covington harder than anybody I’ve chased in my life,” Smith testified during a 2013 court proceeding. But, Smith also acknowledged he surveilled Covington in an obvious manner. Advocates for Smithson say that approach rendered Smith’s surveillance ineffective.
“I wanted [Covington] to know he was being pursued by me,” Smith testified. “I spent more nights than I want to count, sitting outside his residence.”
Smith also acknowledged telling Covington’s attorneys that he was surveilling Covington. “I wanted [Covington] to feel my hot breath, so to speak,” Smith explained.
In his Aug. 26 filing, Forrest asserted that Smith investigated Covington in a reasonable manner, and that he couldn’t argue otherwise.
Forrest also took issue with Smithson’s contention that Smith was remiss in failing to challenge the veracity of Dan Hall, a former lover of Smithson.
Hall allegedly gave a statement to police that incriminated Smithson in Shephard’s murder.
But Smithson claims that Hall had a crystal-meth addiction, impairing his ability to testify credibly about the incident.
During a 2013 court proceeding, Forrest called Hall “the star witness for the commonwealth. And I would submit that, without Dan Hall’s testimony in the trial, the commonwealth would have no case [against Smithson].”
But Forrest has apparently changed his mind about the importance of challenging Hall’s credibility.
In his Aug. 8 filing, he said Smith “had a reasonable basis for limiting his cross-examination, and/or not otherwise impeaching Hall concerning his drug usage.”
Forrest noted that Smith was concerned that Hall would “completely come apart” on the witness stand, if questioned about his drug usage.
Hall died April 2, 2013. But before his death, he signed an affidavit acknowledging his crystal-meth addiction and his inability to clearly recall events relating to the Shephard incident.
Forrest couldn’t be reached for comment.
On Sept. 3, Smithson filed a document in Superior Court, objecting to Forrest’s characterization of his appeal as meritless.
By presstime, the court hadn’t ruled on Forrest’s request to withdraw as Smithson’s attorney.